Peter Nolan was an experienced broadcast journalist from 1960s to the ‘80s. Perceived as a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is newsman, he began in radio in Niagara Falls back in 1963, then for WKBN-TV and radio in Youngstown, Ohio before settling in the Windy City in 1968. He worked for WMAQ-TV (channel 5) and WBBM-TV (channel 2). He’s still fond of those years.
Nolan, a Glenview resident since 1990, has been named a recipient of a 2019 Silver Circle Award, presented by the Chicago television industry. He is one of 11 inductees who will be honored by the Midwest Chapter of the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences at a dinner in Chicago on May 3, 2019. His first published book, “CAMPAIGN! The 1983 Election that Rocked Chicago” was published in 2012 by Amika Press of Northfield. His second book, “News Stories: A Memoir,” is a collection of his television news scripts, recently published by Gatekeeper Press, Columbus, Ohio. One can easily consider this book a way of tapping into life during the Vietnam era and later to a time of social unrest, gender wars, hard-fought equality, the struggles of men and women, crime and violence, and anything else that caught his eye
From his home he tells the Journal, “I had covered a lot of stories and had submitted one to ‘Big Muddy,’ which is a Southeast Missouri State University Press journal. When it was published, I wanted to see my stories published in book form,” said Nolan. He said they were stored in boxes in his garage for years. He wanted to share those stories with his grandchildren so they would know that he was a broadcast journalist during a dynamic period in the nation’s history, at a time when television was a new technology. The biggest, most visible job he had was delivering a nightly commentary on the 10 p.m. news on Channel 5 in Chicago from 1978 to 1981.
Nolan touched upon a few of his book’s stories. Naturally, readers will be interested in the time when John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, and his wife, Jackie, lived in the White House, in an almost Camelot setting. Nolan included this unforgettable glimpse into one of many sad days to come for our nation in his story, “Death of a President.”
In 1963, he was a newsman in Niagara Falls working at WHLD radio station, that featured music and news during the morning and afternoon drive time. Religious and foreign language shows would follow. Nolan covered the police beat, morning newscasts, city hall, criminal courts, and school board and city council meetings at night. On Friday, Nov. 22, after a short newcast at 12:30 p.m., he headed home to eat and for a short nap. He wasn’t due back to the station until 2:30 p.m. He recalled waking to the sound of a phone ringing and his wife telling him to get to the station right away. In a daze, he heard the unthinkable, that President Kennedy had been shot in an open convertible as he “motorcaded through Dallas.” No sooner had he walked through the door of the studio did the station manager, Eddy Joseph, hand him a roll of wire copy and told him to start reading, that they would feed him the copy. Nolan only had the position five months. Sitting behind the mic after this horrible national incident would make even a long-time newsman extremely nervous. And then, off of the wire came the unthinkable, Nolan said. “FLASH! President John F. Kennedy is dead.” That afternoon, Nolan kept reading what came over the wire. The next day, he recalled how the station played sacred music and continuous reports from Dallas, Washington and Niagara Falls. The station joined with the Mutual Radio Network to report what followed and about the president’s funeral. How he, and every American, watched President Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One as Mrs. Kennedy observed, how John John saluted the casket.
A few years later, 1965, Niagara Falls was the subject of a news story, Nolan said. Niagara Falls had long been a honeymoon destination and a site for eccentric adventurers. It also was noted in a Sunday newspaper that this impressive natural site was crumbling and would collapse. Nolan searched for named sources and found it only said geologists and engineers, but didn’t name anyone specifically. Congressional inquiries were made and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted studies. Eventually, the story was no longer covered, but it had impacted the region.
In 1966, Nolan began working for WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Ohio and then in 1968, he was hired by WMAQ-TV as a summer replacement writer, a position that was made permanent in the fall. He wrote for pioneering female anchor Jorie Lueloff. Later, when working during a midnight newscast, he worked with a young female producer named Lucyna Migala.
He was on the 19th floor of the NBC newsroom in 1969 when Niagara Falls was in the news again. The wire services were reporting that The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was “shutting down the American Falls of Niagara.” They were going to construct a damn to divert the water away from the vulnerable part of the falls, this would hopefully prevent future rock slides and erosion. Nolan wasn’t given the opportunity to cover it, but he still remembers that it “was a hell of a story at the time.” They actually shut down the falls to conduct tests and extend its existence.
His most visible job was delivering a nightly commentary on the 10 p.m. news on Channel 5 in Chicago 1978-1981.
Numerous other stories are featured in Nolan’s book. Stories that create a brief portrait of the people and events of the past. There’s mention of the disappearance of Rosemary Kennedy, the Stateville Prison Riot, stories about Bobby Rush and Jimmy Hoffa and then there are two stories about men and circumstances. About a stutterer being framed and the ironic nature of war.
“One story that I covered was about a lawyer who had a pro-bono client who was accused of murder. The client had horrible speech stuttering, but the lawyer found out that his client could sing his responses. The kid was from the west side of Chicago in the 1970s. The case was overturned in an appeal,” said Nolan.
As for the story of the ironic nature of war, Nolan said the setting was a battlefield in Europe at the end of World War II. John Rossi who owned the House of Bertini Restaurant on Wells Street told Nolan a story about Rossi being assigned to an engineering battalion on D-Day in 1944 and how he landed in France on Utah beach.
His unit was responsible for cutting hedgerows that separated the farms in that region of France.
Rossi said, “We saw a lot of aerial combat and often engaged the enemy when planes were shot down. One day Tully from Michigan (who was in his unit) who had been on his high school track team was chasing a pilot who was shot down. Rossi said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Tully huggy the German pilot. They had gone to high school together and were both on the track team.”
Turns out that the pilot’s father was an engineer who came to the U.S. to work in the auto industry before the war. The family returned to Germany. Tully’s friend went to college and later joined the Luftwaffe. The pilot was taken as a prisoner of war. That encounter may have been the one factor to save both men’s lives.
Nolan is retired now, working on the promotion of his book and enjoying time with his family. Asked what he thinks of television broadcasters today, he replied, “I think there’s too much talk, they need to get out and cover the news.”